More than 100 people are being sent to court after the first weekend of the new school year at Queen’s University under a new city pilot project aimed at controlling intoxicated crowds in public.
These crowds that assemble around this time of year – made up of students, locals and visitors – have been known to block off key city ambulance routes, cram into unsanctioned house parties and congest local emergency rooms in Kingston, Ont. The university has taken drastic measures over the past decade to combat unruly celebrations throughout the year, including an infamous five-year cancellation of homecoming. The annual congregation of students and alumni was halted in 2008, after years of out-of-control street parties, and resumed only in 2013.
Now, under the pilot project, anyone ticketed for high-risk or disruptive behavior during orientation week, homecoming weekend and St. Patrick’s Day – which had grown nearly as rowdy as homecoming – or anyone charged with any offence under the city’s six-month-old nuisance party bylaw, will have to appear in person at a Kingston courthouse.
There will be no option to pay the tickets online or by phone. If someone is from out of town, he or she will have to return to face a Justice of the Peace. Queen’s will cross-check names from the public court docket with names of students. Students may then be sent through Queen’s internal misconduct system, which could result in educational penalties. In extreme cases, they may include in suspensions or expulsions. Students are bound by a code of conduct that also applies to their actions off-campus if they could be seen as affecting the reputation of Queen's.
“If you make bad choices, there are consequences,” Queen’s Principal Daniel Woolf said. “Those consequences might include missing a class, or a test or an exam, and they’ll have to speak to their individual professor about that. The best way to ensure there’s no impact on their academic life, either here or indeed in the future, is simply not to engage in irresponsible and unsafe behavior.”
Last year, intoxicated people from homecoming crowded the emergency room of Kingston General Hospital even earlier than usual. People were stumbling drunk into the emergency room midday, cramming between kids with broken arms and families in medical crisis, said Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson. Things got worse on St. Patrick’s Day, when a roof with more than 40 people on top collapsed.
“It was, in my view, incredibly fortunate that we did not have someone seriously injured or killed in that moment,” Mr. Paterson said. It was after that incident that he met with Mr. Woolf.
The pilot project was implemented after agreement between the mayor, the local police service, the university and various city offices from bylaw to communications. Under the previous system, the same infractions of the liquor license act or noise bylaw would still result in a ticket, but the fines could often be paid remotely without a trip to the courthouse.
Both Mr. Woolf and Mr. Paterson assert that the initiative isn’t targeting students, but rather, specific behaviours. Anyone – student, alumni, local resident or visitor – can be sent to court under the new measures and Mr. Paterson says “a sizable number, if not an outright majority” of those involved in harmful or unsafe activities in the past during these periods aren’t actually Queen’s students. Still, they give the school a bad name. The pilot project comes in a time of flux for both men, as Mr. Woolf enters his final year as principal and Mr. Paterson gears up for a fall election.
Queen’s student Soren Christianson, 22, commissioner of municipal affairs for the student government, and his team have been trying to share information about the new initiative as students arrive. “That’s obviously the biggest concern: people just not knowing that this change has occurred," Mr. Christianson said.
Mr. Woolf and Mr. Paterson will speak about the initiative at a student government assembly on Sept. 20, after which student leaders will decide if and how to respond.
Meanwhile, other universities in Ontario are opting for different approachs.
Lori Chalmers Morrison, a spokeswoman for Wilfred Laurier University, wrote in an e-mail that, "while the capability exists to issue a summons-to-court ticket," the student code of conduct and an out-of-court settlement ticket has been a "proactive deterrent."
McMaster University currently funds additional police presence in its near-campus neighbourhoods, which spokesman Wade Hemsworth says has "served McMaster well this year."
The University of Toronto has no plans to implement an initiative such as that taking place in Kingston.
Some other schools are watching the Kingston pilot project unfold with great interest.
Western University says it doesn’t traditionally experience large-scale unsanctioned orientation parties, but is still interested to see how the project influences frosh week activities. "Large street parties are now a concern at all major Canadian universities," spokesman Keith Marnoch wrote in an e-mail, "not just a select few."
Back at Queen's, between Saturday and 6 a.m. Tuesday, 91 charges were laid for having open liquor, seven for publicly consuming liquor, nine for underaged drinking, five for public intoxication, two Highway Traffic Act tickets, one contravention of the nuisance bylaw and more still under the noise bylaw, all subject to the pilot's consequences. Mr. Woolf expects it’ll take “one or two weekends, and one or two court sessions” for behaviour to really change.
“Let’s just hope this does the job,” he said on Tuesday, “because certainly I don’t want to be in a position – nor will my successor – to have to cancel something like homecoming again.”